A plan to merge two separate Minneapolis systems for investigating charges of police misconduct is headed for a City Council vote next week, following a Wednesday public hearing that brought opponents out in force.
“This is probably one of the toughest decisions any one of us will have to make while in office,” said Council Member Meg Tuthill. “These are issues that cause nightmares.”
Currently, a citizen with a complaint about police misconduct can choose between an investigation of their charges by civilian investigators in the Civil Rights Department or by sworn officers in the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit.
Those two units would be merged and the complainant would have no choice about who would be investigating their charges, under the plan approved by the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health Committee. The results of the investigation would be reviewed by a panel of two police officers and two civilians and then forwarded to the police chief.
“People don’t feel comfortable reporting misconduct to the police,” said Mel Reeves of Minneapolis during the public hearing. Reeves said the proposed merged system would, in his opinion, create more problems than it solves. “We still need a civilian apparatus,” he said.
A new plan, brought forward this week from the Civilian Review Authority Board, would allow complainants to select either civilian or police investigators. Current and former board members asked the committee to delay action on the merger plan to give more time to study their proposal.
“The last thing you want to do is remove outside feedback,” said Al Giraud of the CRA board, which was unaware that a plan to revise the complaint policy was under way. Members of the board, which currently hears complaints about police misconduct, were not asked for their opinions during the planning process, Giraud said
The plan to merge the two systems was prepared by the Civil Rights Department, members of the Police Internal Affairs Unit and advisers from the City Attorney’s office.
One of the goals of the new plan was to reduce the time between filing a complaint and resolving it. Two investigators work on police complaints in the Civil Rights Department, which has a backlog dating to 2009. The Internal Affairs Unit has six officers assigned for investigations with more added when the workload increases.
Velma Korbel, director of the Civil Rights Department, said she thinks the merger plan will be more efficient that the current system because more people will be available for investigations. Currently, lower-level complaints are “languishing in the In Basket for months,” she said.
A change in state law also motivated those involved to come up with a new plan. The new law requires citizen oversight committees, such as the Civilian Review Authority, to function only as advisors whose opinions are not binding on public and elected officials. In Minneapolis, the ordinance, as written, is in conflict with state law and must be revised.
“We need to put something new together,” said Council Member Betsy Hodges, but she added that she was not ready to vote on the merger plan. “I have a lot of problems with what is before us, but I also have a lot of questions.”
Hodges abstained from voting, saying she wanted to know what other ideas were studied and wanted more information before making a decision. The full City Council is scheduled to vote Sept. 21.
“This proposal isn’t ready,” said Dave Bicking, a former CRA member who joined other current and former members in asking that the CRA board plan be given more consideration as a “thoughtful alternative.”
“There are some gems in there,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who cast the lone vote against the merger plan and favors more study of the CRA board plan. “One of the possible benefits of this proposal is that we could actually get some civilian eyes on the problem,” he said.
“We all know there are cops who do bad things,” said Council Member Don Samuels, who chairs the committee. Samuels said he understands how the “collaborative relationship is causing anxiety” but that, in his opinion, it is time to move forward with a new system and see how it works. He voted in favor of the merger plan.
“I don’t think there is any way we’re going to make everyone happy,” said Council President Barb Johnson. “People have to have a place they can go and be heard.” Johnson voted in favor of the merger plan.
Council Member Diane Hofstede also voted to support the merger plan, saying she thought it was time to move forward. Tuthill left the meeting before the vote was taken.
After the meeting, Gordon said he would be working on amendments to the merger plan when it goes before the full Council.
“I’ve got three or four changes that could be made to improve it,” said Gordon, who added that he’ll see if other council members are interested in delaying a vote to allow time for more study.